Neither Lion Nor Lamb

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sometimes we roar like lions; sometimes we follow like lambs. Both are okay when they are well-thought-out, conscious choices rather than a way of life.

But some people almost always roar like a lion, and others almost always follow like a lamb. People who know me now find this hard to believe, but I used to be among the latter crowd.

I'm currently training to be a Stephen Minister, and recent lessons covered how to be assertive. That means standing up for our rights in ways that respect both others and ourselves.

A refresher course is always helpful, and that's what it was for me. I learned assertiveness when I took Introduction to Sociology as a junior at Hope College. The class met at Graves Hall, which is the building pictured at the head of this post.

To mix and mangle cliches, when the class began I was a quiet little mouse who let people walk all over me. By the time the course ended, I had learned to stand up for myself.

Introduction to Sociology didn't intentionally include assertiveness training, and what I learned from that experience was probably the culmination of a longer growth process. But I remember it as the first time I Aced an assertiveness test.

The course grades were based on quantity rather than quality. Attending class was enough to earn a D. Handing in the homework earned a C, and participating in class discussions earned a B. Getting an A required doing all those things plus a project. And even the worst project was good enough for an A.

The professor divided us into small groups of four or five. Mine included a very vocal male student who pushed his illogical ideas onto the team. To my surprise, the others went along with him, and whatever suggestions or concerns I dared to express were ignored.

I could have gone along, too, and the lamb in me would have done so in the past. Or I could have become aggressive and tried to impose my own will on the group, but the lion's roar would have been totally out of character and probably wouldn't have accomplished anything except dissension. Still, something inside me rebelled at getting an A for inferior work. So I asked the professor if I could do an individual project instead, and she agreed.

Although I was thinking primarily of my own needs at the time, the welfare of every member of the group was at stake. Because I spoke up, my confidence increased. I learned new things about sociology from the project I undertook on my own, as well as gaining practical experience from observing the way the group had functioned before I left it. And hopefully other members of the group looked at my example and pondered whether they should be so quick to follow someone just because he was forceful and following was easy.

One day the lion will lay down with the lamb. But until then, the most we can hope for is to live assertively, respecting both others and ourselves.

Because respect is everyone's due, including yours and mine.

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